The idea that student athletes are given a lighter academic load is nothing new and it’s something that is debated on every level, from elementary school through college.
But the topic has gotten renewed media interest thanks to a viral picture that allegedly shows an “essay” (it’s really a paragraph) written by a University of North Carolina football player.
Mary Willingham, a whistleblower and activist who champions “real” educations for athletes, said the paltry submission was a final essay for an intro class and the student received a final grade of A-.
The entire essay reads as follows:
Rosa Parks: My Story
On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.
That is not college level writing nor does it come close to being a proper essay. And as it turns out, the “essay” was plagiarized from a children’s book. An eagle-eyed Huffington Post reader noticed that the student’s paper was essentially word for word, the introduction to a book called Rosa Parks: My Story, which was written by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins. The student basically just made the story third-person instead of first-person.
Willingham has been conducting research about UNC’s athletes that she says reveals a troubling trend. “The gap in academic preparedness between profit sport athletes and students at NCAA (Division I) institutions perpetuates educational inequality. Until we acknowledge the problem, and fix it, many of our athletes, specifically men’s basketball and football players, are getting nothing in exchange for their special talents,” Willingham told the Associated Press.
Former UNC football player Michael McAdoo told the News and Observer of Raleigh that UNC’s counselors steered him towards “no-show” classes where he would be assured of passing grades. According to Willingham, those types of practices lead to the conditions she says she has found in her research. She claims that of 183 football or basketball players at UNC from 2004-12, 60 percent were reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels.
College athletics is a big-money industry. The top 10 football-revenue-generating schools brought in $759 million in 2012. That’s just football revenue at just 10 colleges. It’s no wonder that schools would seek to make sure their money-makers stay academically eligible by any means necessary.
The problem is that these student athletes are not being prepared for life after college. Only a small percentage of college athletes go on to play in professional sports. The NCAA gives the following probabilities for college athletes playing in the pros: 11.6 percent for baseball, 1.7 percent for football, 1.3 percent hockey and 1.2 percent for men’s basketball.
That means most student athletes will have to get “regular” jobs upon graduation and if said student athletes are handed a meaningless diploma and are ill-equipped to pass even high-school-level coursework, the chances of them making a smooth transition out of the bubble of college life are slim.
Playing college sports in highly competitive divisions is a taxing journey. Between practices, workouts, games and classes, the work can take a toll on these unpaid student athletes. For years, there has been a debate about whether or not college athletes should be paid and recently football players at Northwestern University were told by the National Labor Relations Board that they qualify as employees of the university and hence can unionize.
It remains to be seen what will come of that and how unions could change the face of college athletics, including the quality of education for the student athletes.
Should college athletes be paid? Should college athletes be held to the same academic standards as their fellow students?